Well, it finally happened: We opened a restaurant in Williamsburg. It’s called Thompson Brooke.
As you might expect, the last few months have been pretty crazy. Designing a restaurant from scratch is a combination of big-picture questions—is it the right location? what does the neighborhood really want to eat?—to an astounding number of little details. Is this the right shape for the plates? How to best dry the malt vinegar for the fries? Does everyone actually love pickled chilies as much as I do? (Yes. They do.)
But most of all, creating Thompson Brooke—the name refers to my grandpa, by the way, not to me!—has been a trip down memory lane, right back to childhood.
The first dish I ever created was “Brookie Bread.” My sisters Liz and Sarah came up with name and it stuck. The key was that it had to be made in the humble toaster oven, because my parents wouldn’t even let me near the gas appliances until I turned 15.
Brookie Bread was quite a sensation in our household. I began with day-old bagels, toasted with butter and honey till the honey was close to burning and the edges of the bagel were dark and crunchy. Next I made a paste of brown sugar, maple syrup and peanut butter, spread that over the top of the bagel, and toasted that mess again until I saw smoke. Once I saw the smoke I pulled the bagel out and let it cool.
If there was whipped cream, I’d top the smoldering heap with it and then eat it with a glass of milk in front of the TV. If my luck broke just right an episode of Moonlighting would be on.
An aside here: I credit Moonlighting with setting me down the path of a true cineaste. Cybill Shepherd was my first celluloid crush and she led me to The Last Picture Show, Peter Bogdanovich and the “New Hollywood” movement, and from there to Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski, and European cinema.
The sweet Brookie Bread was so damn good I started messing around with the savory foods in the fridge too. Broiled bologna, Steak-umm, cheddar cheese, deeply caramelized (that is, burnt) onions, each layer stacked on top of a dark-toasted, butter-soaked “everything” bagel.
When the cooking was done and everything melted together I topped the contraption with Cheez Whiz, Ted’s (not Frank’s) red hot sauce, and paprika mayonnaise. I would chase it all down with a 16 ounce Pepsi, ice cold from the glass bottle. (This was when these glass bottles came in eight-packs and each bottle promised a 10-cent return.)
So, what’s this got to do with Thompson Brooke? Through all the trial and error (as you are probably picking up on, a lot of error), food was always one thing: It was fun. It was a way I learned to express my creativity, fed my family (I’m not saying it was healthy for them), and most of all it was something that brought everyone together.
So now, when I’m designing dishes for Red Table Catering or at Thompson Brooke (with the able help of chef Clyde Hagerty or Sam Sherman and many others) my goal is to prepare foods that are refined but are also really fun as well. I try to convey the sense of satisfaction I got when the Brookie Bread was just right, the drink was cold, and Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis were there to sprinkle a little TV magic on me.